Passenger – Live @ The Powerstation, Auckland 2018
As I dutifully joined the queue outside the Powerstation last night, I had high expectations of Mike Rosenberg, more commonly known by his stage name, Passenger. I’ve seen him a couple times before and am stunned he hasn’t been able to crack the NZ market enough to bring his Runaway tour to a larger audience. Listening to some of the patient concert goers in the queue outside, I wasn’t alone in that opinion. However, I still held out hope as last night was a sell-out after all.
WORDS AND PHOTOS BY KIMBERLEY JONES
Donning a casual blue flannel shirt and jeans, kiwi singer/songwriter Luke Thompson opened last night. With a sound similar to Passenger himself he was a great choice to warm up the crowd. There were plenty of laughs and Luke told us as he introduced one of his songs that he had purposefully included it to quieten the crowd however he now didn’t know what to do as everyone was already paying him full attention.
Passenger took to stage promptly to tremendous applause and cheers. A short dialogue and with “I fucking love this country. And I promise I don’t say that every gig” we were straight into Fairytales & Firesides. It became apparent that the sell-out crowd last night were not as familiar with the early works but voices would raise in appropriate places when the chorus played.
Once he had finished with the first song, he apologised for the first of what I expected would be many f bombs during the night to come. I personally don’t think anyone would have been offended as I am sure all in attendance last night were fans and for quite a while as well. With a career that spans back to 2003, I am embarrassed to say that this was only the third time I have seen Passenger while I spoke with other concert goers on the way out and they said they have seen him 6 times in NZ. “I’m in love with this guy”, one lady said to me and to be honest I can understand that fully.
For anyone that didn’t know, Passenger started by busking in the streets of London among other places. He formally introduced himself and said we could be “forgiven” for thinking we had come out to see a band perform last night. “Auckland, it’s just me and a guitar if that’s ok tonight” had more cheers from the crowd who obviously were anxious to keep going. As Passenger laughed and said that he never got that sound from a crowd while busking, one lady from the crowd piped up and said that she had seen him at Waterloo Station, London one summer busking. To which the response was, “and now you’ve paid for this concert, thank you!”
Before cruising into his next song, David, we got a rundown of the story of a man called David, a homeless Scotsman that Passenger met while he was staying in a hostel in Scotland. Life’s for the living had voices raised singing the chorus with passion.
“You are f***ing wonderful.”
As he sipped a quick drink he told us all it was “only Scottish Apple Juice”. I am sure I don’t need to embellish that any further.
Hell or High Water was next up from his 10th album Runaway. This was a well-known track to many in the crowd as yet again the chorus was sung like a campfire song known since childhood. Hearing the crowd during this song reinforced that they were more familiar with his current and recent songs than with the earlier works.
Introducing his next song, To Be Free, we were all requested to be as quiet as possible even though he had earlier stipulated that we could and should make as much noise as we wanted and could make. Passenger said that this next song was very personal and a topic he never thought he would ever write about, his family and their history. While most of the songs I am familiar with by Passenger tell their stories themselves, To Be Free was quite clearly a sensitive topic. I commend the bravery of Passenger by telling his story and that of his family as so many are doing at the moment. He stood centre stage he shared a part of himself that so many keep closed off. The appreciation of the crowd was deafening as applause erupted at the end of the piece. Quite the contrast to being able to hear a pin drop a few moments beforehand.
Passenger then headed to the back of the stage to regain some composure while still strumming his guitar and then continued on with a cover of the well-known Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel. Upon conclusion of this item, Passenger confirmed that this wasn’t a new song of his he had written, even though this was how he had introduced the song. But sharing that after one rather disappointing gig of his years ago, a 15-year-old boy approached him afterwards and said that ‘that new song you just sang, was amazing! It will be a hit one day!” Raucous laughter filled the room and Passenger said that if we ever were to meet this boy, he’d be in his early 20’s now, please don’t tell him that this isn’t Passengers song!
My favourite of the night was most definitely I Hate. Passenger didn’t even get the chance to introduce it fully before it was obvious what was coming next and the crowd drowned him out. A song that is politically incorrect in every way but the most honest and amusing by far! For any that don’t know this song I highly recommend seeking it out even if it just for a laugh.
Gently playing while he introduces his next number, another from the new album, Survivors. “But don’t get it mixed up with the Destiny’s Child Song”, he says, then starts singing their song. Following up with Suzanne, which is the newest song he has written and has not been released on an album yet brought the crowd back to a standstill while listening intently.
The night would not have been complete without Passenger’s only hit song, Let Her Go. When asked if we remembered this ‘old’ song, the response just made me laugh. Everyone in the crowd in the palm of his hand, Passenger shared with us that the last night he was at the Powerstation the crowd was overly ‘chatty’ and in the 6 years since he has played that venue we were a much more respectful lot.
Rounding out the last of the set, Scare Away the Dark, was by far the loudest of the evening. Not a single person that I could see was quiet and that is about all I could tell you about the crowd. With a commanding presence, all my focus was on the individual that took us all on a voyage of our own for the evening. After being on stage for just over an hour, Passenger exited stage left, however, the crowd was not letting him go by a long shot. With the well-known bridge of a whole lot of ‘oh oh oh oh’s’ still going on what seemed a never-ending cycle by the crowd getting ever louder and louder, Passenger came back to the stage to join in for a couple more rounds.
Reporting that he had recently had a bit of trouble with his voice, Passenger said he would finish the night with one last cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark as our encore. Now, I am no expert but there was not a single note that I could fault in what I witnessed last night. Passionate as ever, songs written with expert musical performance and standing alone in front of a completely sold out venue, Passenger yet again delivered. I would like to see a bigger venue next time perhaps and I urge his followers to get out and buy the new album as well!